Akiyuki Shinbo

This week in Director Spotlight: Akiyuki Shinbo

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Akiyuki Shinbo, maker of your favorite shows like Hidarami Sketch, Madoka Magica, and Monogatari. Unlike last weeks Director Kawajiri, some of you might care this time round! Shinbo is unique in my spotlights thus far. Kawajiri was a Key Artist, Imaishi is a comedic extreme, and so on, but Mr Tilt-a-head? He’s just a commercial and marketing director. The Michael Bay of Anime.

His style is less a real style, more a nostalgia machine turned to 11, and what I might consider his style is actually a business decision to brand a style under his name. It’s all very confusing. All through his career, credit is given under different names, sometimes he isn’t credited till the final ova, other times he gets credit while working on something completely different. The man is an enigma, but constantly known for trumendous work ethic and grand directorial style choices.


The One Man Studio

When I say Shinbo, you say Shaft… chanting continues

So the hard part begins with separating Shinbo as the studio Shaft, and Shinbo as a director. Outside of his later career with a studio being stamped with his name, I call Shinbo a “One Man Studio” because of a prolific work ethic and a tendency to run mutliple series at a time.

His time with Studio Parriot allowed him to work on a wide variety of genre and entertainment. Working on Musashi Samurai Lord, Marude Dameo, Montana Jones, Ninku, Midori no Makibao, and Kaiketsu Zorro, in mostly unit direction and learning from some great directors and animators. Moving onto doing Storyboard, episode direction, and his first touches to directorial work in Galaxy Fraulein Yuna, and Saber Marionette.

Shinbo begins to display his real director style, and full control of storyboard, when he began to work on YuYu Hakusho. Taking over the Dark Tournament arc, turning the character design to be much thinner and making fights more abstract. Most famously Episode 58 shows Shinbo taking on some of his first strides to the style he’s known for. His main animator, Atsushi Wakabayashi, would go on to Naruto and feature a similar attack. (Chidori)

When looking at Shinbo’s work in the director seat, you’ll find that it has very little in common with the Shaft nature of animation. Starting with his first work Metal Fighter Miku, Shinbo shifts more and more towards thin figure, large eye characters as he makes Devil Hunter Youko, Debutaunt Detective Corps, Hurricane Polymar, Starship Girl, and Triangle Heart.

At the same time, Shinbo used a lot of this work to play with the styles of Tezuka, Oshii, Rintaro, Kawajiri, and Dezaki. Taking bits and pieces from each and finding which director flavor works with each show and moment. A marketing test of the best in the business. Quite a bit of his style, I imagine, ended up coming from Ikuhara who was working on Sailor Moon near this time and discussions between them had Shinbo using Dezaki more and more.


Director’s Seat

But wait! Head tilts, overhead shots, split screen, stark lighting, extensive use of dutch angle, and using shots of ears/hands to communicate a character. These are clearly Shinbo’s style right?

Nope. A lot of this style is a continuation of the great Dezaki of MadHouse fame.

At the time of making his first series, Dezaki’s greatest disciple Ikuhara left Sailor Moon and delivered the passion filled Revolutionary Girl Utena.

Which features a lot of the open shot, background focused camera work that Shinbo would adopt as well.

There are moments you can find Shinbo testing heavily into other styles though. Notably Twilight of the Dark Master was a homage to last weeks Director, Kawajiri’s Wicked City, and the B-grade horror films of the 80’s. This was made to be so-bad-its-good and they pretty much nail it.

Tenamonya Voyagers pays homage to Gosenzosama Banbanzai! A widely known celebration of fun done by the amazing Mamoru Oshii. (Who I’ll get to next week…) Oshii was a creative force, and Shinbo at this point in his career has established a similar vibe, if a massively different view on the world. This also marks his collaboration with *Tatsuya Oishi*, who is one of the prime components of “Team Shinbo” when Shaft changes in 2004. I’ll come back to him.


SoulTaker

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This is Shinbo’s major director series. Bakemonogatari if it was a shounen battler, Madoka Magica if it were a romance drama, this series has the structural root of Shaft. I bet they use this as the new employee training meeting. Head tilts, overhead shots, split screen, lighting, dutch angle, abstract shape usage, here it is folks!

The series follows a pretty solid battler story, but it is really impressive and entertaining by the end. Rarely can you find a shounen or mecha series that can blend such a nice set of characters, romance, and action into a bunch of fun. Another bonus is that you already know the characters if you’ve seen Monogatari. Kaiki, Araragi, the whole gang comes back to scream and punch lightning bolts for an exciting thrill ride.

This is probably the best display of the Dezaki style of shots, mixed with Kawajiri’s action pomp, and Oshii’s comedic taste, that makes Shinbo so exciting.


Le Portrait de Petit Cossette

MAL | Trailer

I’m going to wrap up the Director Chair section, with what I consider Shinbo’s best work. Depending who you talk to it’s a raging middle finger to loli/pedo porn, a screw you to fans who think everything has to be sexual, a commentary on what it means to be a director who adapts series, a undercutting of the value of artistic merit… This thing is everything, but most of all it is Shinbo’s retirement card as a real “director”.

The story follows a boy finding an antique glass with a painting of a girl inside. The art comes to life and the boy falls in love with it. A beautiful romance story, with torturous moments, we follow as Shinbo uses surreal imagery to communicate the questions, the pain, and the *horror* of the creative process from both sides of that glass.

*Shinbo makes his master piece*, heart stopping and beautiful I love this film.

A Portrait of his own beliefs, exploring what it means to be a director, and announcing his decision for the future. Seriously an amazing piece not only in it’s near perfect music and art, but in the multitude of questions and answers one can draw. Famous for quotes about “anime that doesn’t make money is not worthwile” and that “mediocre trumps greatness, so long as your flashy enough.” Shinbo simultaniously slut shames the fandom, and creates the idea to making multiple of the highest selling series of all time.


Shaft and Team Shinbo

Team Shinbo. The true heart of Shaft’s style and popularity, is one of the most important business events to happen in Anime in recent times. Think about how many studios have branded themselves so well. KyoAni’s romcom series, MadHouse action series, Ghibli grand story telling, Sunrise mecha opera, the list of long lasting studios does not go very long but Shaft is firmly sat among them. After his masterful Portrait de Petit Cossette, Shinbo begins to stop making anime and starts designing a studio that eventually joins those studio ranks.


Tsukuyomi: Moon Phase

Shinbo begins by doing a series focused on the moe style that they would design. Oonuma’s digital pastels and polygonic shape design, Oishi’s minimal animation and montage storytelling, and Shinbo’s lavish full lense story telling.

Hiring *Shin Oonuma*, a digital mastermind who used massive cost saving techniques and covered it with style. Use of pastel colors, overhead shots, pillarboxing, pencil sketch inserts, and polygonal light sources, made for stylish and flashy design while keeping animation cheap. We also see the return of *Tatsuya Oishi*, the third piece of the Team. Oishi had a talent with Storyboard, using photo, font, live video, vocal distorion, and a mess of odd design choices. These worked perfectly to allow Shinbo to use all his flashy, animation hog style with Oishi’s minimalist draw use and montage like storytelling to keep series exciting and again, cost efficient.

Together, they designed an animation style that is in-expensive, stylish, exciting, and moldable to almost any story. It also allowed them to extend, and expand, on series that others would find difficult to animate. It makes almost any transition or scene, reach maximum excitement and entertainment.

Making Negima!, Paniponi Dash!, and Hidamari Sketch, they focused on series that sell well that featured strong comedy, moe, and art design. A smashing success compared to the more lack luster moe series of the time, a fresh look at the genre. They use these to fund a bit more experimentation with a ton of series, and they are all pretty entertaining so chose at will…

Sayanara Zetsubou Sensei, Maria Holic, Summer storm, Dance in the vampire Bund, Arakawa Under the Bridge, Yet the Town Moves, Kateni Kaizou, Psychoelectric Girl, Sasami-san@Ganbaranai, Nisekoi, Mekakucity Actors, and Koufuku Graffiti. Most are not important, but entertaining shows.

There is 3 shows that stand out from Shaft and display the difference in the 3 directors-in-one of Team Shinbo.

ef: A Tale of Memories

*Shin Oonuma* focused on ef, and afterwards he left Shaft to create his own studio, Silver Link. They’ve gone on to make Watamote, Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya, C^3 and Non non Biyori.

Bakemonogatari

*Tatsuya Oishi* is given essentially free reign on the first 13 episode series, and it’s wonderful. It’s hard to credit everything to Oishi, as there is a lot of Isshin’s writing and story, but the whole thing comes out perfectly. After the series, Oishi began to work on the film prequel to the series ^^pls? and kinda drifted away to doing nothing.

Last but certainly not least….


Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica

MAL | Trailer

Shinbo spent his time working with the prolific, best in the business, scenario writer Gen Urobuchi. I said it. ^^fight ^^me Together they designed a series to be a Portrait

of not only the magic girl genre, but of the entire “girls growing up” story style that goes all the way back to his first series Metal Fighter Miku.

If you want to know about the story, it’s meaning, the structure, the art, the music, the character journeys, seriously if you want to know what kind of toilet paper the girls prefer,

it’s all out there for you to find. The show is fantastic, better still if you have seen Ikuhara’s series or other girl centered series in general.

Simply put, Shinbo had found a way to make money and he wanted to show off how great he was at doing it. The fact that it, and Monogatari, crush the sales of virtually every other series ever produced, must give him the largest e-peen this side of Andromeda.


Final Thoughts

Through all the series, Shinbo finds the crunchy center of any genre and bites in. Fans of harems flock to Nisekoi, moe fanatics will mention Hidamari, critics and fan service haters will painfully recommend Monogatari, and everyone wont shut up till you see Madoka Magica.

Akiyuki Shinbo might not be the “best” director, but there are few instances of such a prolific name in anime and few have ever made a studio rise higher in recognition. He is an iconic director who’s name will live on well past his peers.

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